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ASU men's basketball's collapse to USC hard to fathom

ASU guard Chance Murray shoots over USC's Darion Clark in the Pac-12 tournament on Wednesday, March 11, 2015, in Las Vegas. USC came from behind to eliminate ASU 67-64. (Photo courtesy of ASU)

ASU guard Chance Murray shoots over USC's Darion Clark in the Pac-12 tournament on Wednesday, March 11, 2015, in Las Vegas. USC came from behind to eliminate ASU 67-64. (Photo courtesy of ASU) ASU guard Chance Murray shoots over USC's Darion Clark in the Pac-12 tournament on Wednesday, March 11, 2015, in Las Vegas. USC came from behind to eliminate ASU 67-64. (Photo courtesy of ASU)

LAS VEGAS – All season, the ASU men’s basketball team showed signs of improvement.

Freshman guard Tra Holder developed in conference play. Sophomore forward Savon Goodman flourished once finally eligible. Seniors Bo Barnes and Shaquielle McKissic performed their roles — 3-point specialist and a do-it-all player, respectively.

All of the work, winning nine of 14 conference games, resulted in a favorable matchup in the Pac-12 tournament, a date with last-place USC.

On Wednesday, ASU's improvement was undone after it lost to the worst team in the Pac-12 after comfortably leading for most of the game. ASU coach Herb Sendek though, cited the team's improvement once conference play began.

"We lost a close game today," Sendek said. "And that never feels good. But I don't think that that in itself takes away from the progress they made and the efforts they've had with some great wins through the season as well."

It's still difficult to describe just how the Sun Devils lost the game. ASU led 60-46 with nine minutes remaining, and were in front by as many as 15 earlier. The Sun Devils were at a loss for for words as well, outside of the team missing shots and not getting stops on the other end.

Video by Justin Janssen | Sports Editor

"We had a 15-point lead," McKissic said. "I don't really know how to explain how it evaporated so quickly besides lack of hustle, energy. I don't know how that happened."

Barnes said he felt "terrible" after the game, one that is his last meaningful game with the Sun Devils (the National Invitational Tournament is still possible).

"There's no other way you could feel after losing like that," he said. "We had chances to put them away, and we just couldn't get stops."

Yes, USC used a zone defense forcing ASU into bad offense, but the Sun Devils scored just four points in the last nine minutes.

"I don't know the precise time," Sendek said when asked when the game slipped away. "We were focused on the next possession. We had some opportunities on offense that we didn't convert."

Trailing by seven points at the under-4 minute media timeout, USC scored on five consecutive possessions to take a 3-point lead.

After McKissic made a layup and USC missed on the other end, ASU had a frantic possession. McKissic and Barnes each missed shots, with Barnes coming down with the offensive rebound both times.

Then, USC's Nikola Jovanovic blocked McKissic's layup and he would miss a buzzer-beater 3-pointer as well.

Early on, ASU had every attempt to put the game out of reach.

The Trojans turned it over 17 times. In the first half, ASU had a 15-2 edge in points off turnovers. ASU grabbed 20 offensive rebounds. During one first half run, the Sun Devils went on a 15-2 spurt, helped by Barnes' two 3-pointers.

But ASU went cold down the stretch, leading to a puzzling finish.

Additional Note:

- ASU is the first team in conference tournament history to lose a game to the No. 12 seed.

 

Reach the sports editor at jmjanss1@asu.edu or follow @jjanssen11 on Twitter.

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